alternative writ of mandate (mandamus)

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Also called an alternative mandamus.

An alternative writ of mandate is a court order that 1) states the allegations of a complaint against a governmental agency, corporation, court, official, or other public authority and 2) directs the party to either perform a legally obligated action (or cease an activity) at some specified time or show cause before the court as to why the party has not done as required or should not be ordered to do so. 

In modern systems of court procedure, an order to show cause serves the same purpose as an alternative writ of mandate. It commands a person to do something or come into court and show cause why he or she has not done it, or should not be made to do it. 

The other type of writ of mandamus, the peremptory writ of mandate, is similar in form to the alternative writ, except that the words requiring the party to show cause why they have not done as commanded are omitted. 

Writs of mandamus are unique because they may be made without completing a trial. They are deemed necessary when the actions or inaction of government bodies or corporate officials are so inappropriate or egregious that immediate, emergency action must be taken by the legal system. 

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]